For almost a decade, community organizing, beautifying public spaces, and bringing young leaders together have been central activities in Divine Islam’s life.
Back in 2011, after an EF1 tornado hit North Minneapolis, Divine took on her first job at Project Sweetie Pie, an organization focused on building community through urban gardens. As Divine worked to beautify spaces across the Northside, she soon became deeply connected with garden work.
“After Project Sweetie Pie I started working at Emerge where I accepted a summer job maintaining the garden at St. Olaf Lutheran Church,” Divine remembers. “That summer I met JP, the Northside Program Director from Youth Farm at the time. Eventually I also met Mela and Sergio, a couple Youth Farmers who were working with JP at the St. Olaf garden. We all got to know each other really fast and eventually I was offered a job for the following summer – I agreed right away!”
“When I came to Youth Farm, I immediately noticed that it was the perfect marriage between working with the earth and working with kids – two of the things I am most passionate about,” Divine continues. “As a big sister, I have always had a strong desire to nurture and mentor younger kids, and that was a central part of my role at Youth Farm. I quickly fell in love with my work and also found a family that cared as much as I did about the food and community we were growing together.”
During her time at Youth Farm, Divine was a leader through her roles as a Project LEAD participant, nonprofit intern, and Farm Steward. She took on projects ranging from co-managing greenhouse work to grant writing and built upon her strengths and interests along the way.
“Throughout the years, I learned that Youth Farm was really giving me, and other youth, the chance to grow in a variety of ways,” Divine said. “Not only were we growing as community leaders, we were also growing both physically and mentally through eating nutritious foods together and taking care of something greater than ourselves. As young people, we became extremely community-oriented, focused on tackling current issues like climate change, and comfortable teaching each other new things.”
Of course, as any family does, Divine and her tight-knit group of fellow Youth Farmers faced a variety of unexpected hurdles throughout their time in the garden. From inclement weather to the occasional garden mishap, learning to navigate the unexpected was an everyday activity.
“One thing you never expect to learn as a young leader is how to keep others calm when blood is involved,” Divine said. “I remember one summer when one of of our Youth Farmers cut his finger open with a knife. I went into full-on problem solving mode and cut off a piece of my shirt to tie around the injury. It might sound crazy, but moments like that were when I realized that our work together throughout the community really made us a family. We were close enough and cared enough about the same things that he trusted me to help take care of him when he was hurt.”
As she has developed into a successful young adult, it has always been clear to see that Divine possesses an overwhelming amount of compassion for people, especially those who make up the community she surrounds herself with.
“When I moved on and went to college, I never stopped caring deeply about young people and their development as leaders,” Divine said. “In May of 2019 I graduated from St. Kate’s with a business degree, but I knew I wasn’t going to stop there. I am now in a teaching fellowship program and I am considering continuing on into special education. I’m not entirely sure what the future looks like for me, but I’m excited to see where this stage in life takes me.”
As time moves on and the world changes from day to day, Divine reminds us to be sure of one thing, “Even though it is quite simple, by caring for the earth and the community, you learn to be part of something greater and with that comes a great deal of empathy and compassion.” This is a lesson that is arguably more pertinent now than ever before.